Finding a camera bag can be an exercise in frustration, confusion and long days on various websites reading reviews, checking prices and specifications. This past summer, I had the pleasure of photographing my first destination wedding in Costa Rica. Even though air travel is not high on my list of things I do on a regular basis, I always look for a camera bag that will have no problems fitting within the carry on specifications of the airlines. The camera bag that I had did great and it's a high-quality bag, but I quickly found out that if I was going to land in Costa Rica with all of the must-have camera gear to make sure I could shoot the wedding, I had to get creative with how I packed everything. By the time I figured out a packing order, I was forbidden to open the main compartment during the travel. In fact, when I arrived on site, I had to repack the bag so I could actually use my gear and then the night before I flew out, revert back to how I had the bag packed during travel. This needed to change.
Enter MindShift. I recently reached out to MindShift for a replacement bag. The bag would have to have a compartment where I could comfortably pack two bodies, at least three lens bodies to include my 70-200 and all of the included accessoriaces. I wanted to have easy access and with the new policies of TSA since I flew last summer, traveling with my old bag would have been a nightmare. I ended up picking up a MindShift FirstLight 40L Backpack.
If you are not familiar with MindShift, you are probably aware of their parent company, ThinkTank. MindShift was founded by the creators of ThinkTank and their product line is focused more on nature and outdoor photographers.
Weight 6lb ( 2.7kg)
Outer Dimensions 13.8” W x 21.7” H x 9” D (35 x 55 x 22.9 cm)
Internal Dimensions 13.4” W x 20” H x 7.3” D (34 x 51 x 18.5 cm)
Maximum Laptop Dimensions 17"
I pulled up the carry on specifications for several US major airlines and the backpack is measured within their size requirements. Several airlines, the backpack is right on those maximum dimension numbers, while it has some wiggle room size wise with some other airlines.
For the purpose of this article, I pulled up the dimension guidelines for several European based airlines for guidance just in case I want to book a trip to Iceland. From what I could find online, the bag also was good for these particular three airlines. The difference though is in weight limits as I found Icelandic Air listed a weight limit of 22 lbs/10kg. This might take some creative thinking to work around depending on your trip. When I went to Costa Rica, my camera bag tipped the scales at 35 pounds.
In conclusion about the size, if you are flying somewhere, make sure you do your research beforehand. The rules are always changing and you do not want to be caught off guard.
This is not an indictment of my previous bag by any means. It has served me well, is made by a reputable manufacturer and I will be keeping it around, but when I unboxed the 40L for the first time, HOLY COW!!!!!
I was immediately impressed by the quality and construction of the 40L. When I first laid eyes on the shoulder straps, I was immediately happy. For those of us that have been in situations where we had to carry a lot of weight on our backs and have been exposed to different quality backpacks, we know the difference. The straps had the appearance that they were designed for hikers and even though I have not had a chance to take it through an airport yet, I do not think I will have the same issues with 35 pounds of camera gear on my back like with my previous bag.
But it does not stop there. There are several different carrying handles if the user does not want or need to throw the bag on their back. There are dedicated straps for to carry a tripod on the outside.
The bag is really deceptive in its size. While the outer dimensions are about the same as my old bag, the design has a slight design difference so it appears A LOT larger. Yet, according to the size specifications, it is well within major airline carry on size restrictions and I have measured just to be sure. For comparison purposes, the bag that I have been using the last several years is the LowePro Fastpack 250. While the external measurements are just about the same, the main difference is in the design. The LowePro bag has a tapered top end, plus the inside is partitioned with a section for camera and glass, and another partition for whatever the user wishes. MindShift utilized every cubic inch of space for camera gear.
Of course, the outside of the bag is the first thing that you will see when you pull the bag out of the box. My impression of the design is simple. A team designs a bag using the best ideas from high-quality backpacks with the straps and hydration pouch, implementing some small pouches for little items and placing carrying handles in two spots while given the bag a somewhat refined style that does not scream camera bag. Lastly, there is only one color option, which is a charcoal gray and black scheme with medium green zipper handles. Even the labeling is tactful using a light gray and medium green to identify the brand and model. There is an identifying mark where the hydration pocket is.
Diving deep into the design, once I moved past the most obvious sides of the bag, one can see the thought that went into the harness design. The shoulder straps are curved to flow with the body. The part of the straps that go against the body is covered in mesh, allowing some breathability. On the "bottom" of the backpack or the portion that will be riding on the user's back, there are three large padded areas, separated from each other and with the ample padding used, there should be plenty of airflow. There is also a waist strap that is well padded and it is designed in a such a way that the user can fold the strap around the bag to keep it out of the way.
The beauty of the harness design though has to be the shoulder straps, they are of a modular design that allows the user to raise or lower the top part of the shoulder straps for differing torso types. All in all, the harness system has 11 different adjustment points.
The laptop pouch is on the outside part of the bag, which is nice. My old bag, the laptop pouch is the "bottom" or where the backpack rides on the user's back. Yeah, that can start to get painful, even with the padding.
I mentioned a hydration pouch earlier. I won't say that this is the end all be all, but when it came to covering certain race or rodeo events, I would make the choice of taking my Camelbak and leaving the camera bag in my vehicle or base of operations. This, in turn, limited what I could carry photography wise. With the MindShift FirstLight 40L, I don't have to leave the bag behind. I have not had a chance to test it yet, but according to MindShift, the hydration pouch is sized for a 3L hydration bag. I will wait until I have some real world experience before I say yay or nay as it does appear somewhat smaller than my dedicated Camelbak.
The first thing I did when I opened the bag was notice how cavernous it was. I yelled and heard an echo..............................Well not really, I had to remove the very large card that shows several different setups (click images to enlarge and browse.
Again, I was impressed with the bag. The "lid" contains four different sized mesh pouched where you can put your odds and ends. Rolls of tape, small first aid kits, small lights, tripod tools, the list is endless. And the best part is you can see everything. No more jumping around from compartment to compartment trying to find the tripod tool. I open the bag and I can see right where it is.
The great thing about the inside though is the customizability factor. Unlike other manufacturers who might skimp on the dividers they supply with their bags, MindShift supplied an abundant amount of dividers so the user can design the interior anyway they want. With the supplied card, there are plenty of ideas to help everyone out. There is even a supplied foam pad molded for a large lens. According to MindShift's website, the bag can contain two bodies and 6-8 lenses. MindShift also lists that either a 500mm attached or 600mm detached can be stashed in the bag.
Even though I do not have all of my glass in the bag, this will probably be my normal layout. One body, three lenses with the biggest being the 70-200. If I need to throw in the 70-300, I will have room to do that. Also, I have two flashes, the transmitter, two LED panels, action cam and assorted other odds and ends.
I am still working on the layout design of my gear setup, but upon initial setup, I have a spot dedicated to my action cam stored in its MindShift bag, my two Newwer CN-160 LED panels, my K-5 II, 70-200, 18-55, and 14mm glass. I also have my two flash bodies along with the transmitter. I definitely will not need all of that gear all the time, but now that I have room for all of it in one spot, no more jumping around from spot to spot trying to locate something. It will be all right there.
The FirstLight 40L is designed for traveling outdoor photographers who need to hike into their locations with a lot of camera gear. With a capacity to carry 2 camera bodies and 6-8 lenses, this bag has the room for any serious photographer.
PROS AND CONS
Intelligent Design Size could cause issues Comes with Rain Cover Cost. It was the most expensive of several similar bags. Hydration Pouch Might force you to buy more gear (I don't know if that would be a positive or negative) Plenty of Dividers for numerous different setups I really cannot think of any more negatives
All in all, I believe this bag is a worthy replacement. The size of the bag will allow me to have no issues when it comes to packing for the next destination wedding. The compartment will allow me to have easier access to the gear I need when the time is of the essence. The design will allow my back to have relief when I have to hop a shuttle and walk through a large airport to reach the next departure gate.
If you are looking for a new camera bag that has a lot of room and is designed to be on your back for hours on end without crushing your skeleton because of the weight, then the MindShift FirstLight 40L is the answer.
ABOUT STANLEY HARPER
Hailing from the nether regions of the Oklahoma Panhandle, Stanley is the master of creative chaos and mayhem at Black Mesa Images - Photography by Stanley Harper.
When Stanley is not kicking it with his family at home, he can be found pursuing his photographic goals. Some of those goals include seniors and weddings, thunderstorms, night skies and sports (mainly rodeo and off road racing). Some of the other corners of the web you can find Stanley's work include: